Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Friendly Perspectives

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Over the holidays, I got a chance (had an excuse) to socialize more than I normally get.  The kids had 2 full weeks off, so we were primed for fun.  After Christmas, my husband came down with a miserable stomach/intestinal bug, which unfortunately put a halt on our activities for 4 days, but gave us time to chill at home.  As always, I learn something from my social interactions.  This year, for me it was all about perspectives.  From friends with older kids that we've known since before G was born, I got questions about G's place on the spectrum, and inquiries on what makes him Autistic and not just an "overactive kid".  I appreciate this curiosity, because it means friends are interested in his symptoms, challenges and future.  Because G does not appear "outwardly autistic", such as facial features, physical challenges, etc, it can seem confusing.  We all have this idea in our mind's eye of an autistic child sitting in a corner rocking back and forth, alone and sad.  Not so, in all cases.  I'm glad to promote awareness, for G's safety and also for the outside chance that I may help some other parent or relative understand their child.  It's a frustrating puzzle on the road to diagnosis and help. 

One friend gave a haughty, yet on the face of it perfectly polite, dismissal of G and his issues...we all have issues with our children, whatever age.  Wait until they're teens.  Wait until they're in college.  Wait until they have kids.  Wait until they get divorced.  Wait until you have to put your parents in a home.  OMG, wait until I scream!  It's not a competition!  My lips were sore from biting them so hard.  I certainly know that everyone has their challenges, never purport to be "more" troubled or burdened than anyone else. I rarely bring up ASD unless it's on the table already, or is a need-to-know situation. 

I wondered: is it my blog that leads some to think I'm exaggerating our troubles in dealing with G?  Perhaps someone read that I find it difficult to parent special needs and thinks I'm trying to play a martyr. NOT. Just tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, constantly worried and completely in awe of parents who have greater challenges than I.  This little blog of mine is a spot to write down my news, ideas, funny moments and a forum to let off steam, tears, and fears.  All of the aforementioned parenting issues above have thousands of blogs written about them as well: teenage years, college kids, empty-nesters, grandparenting, divorce, geriatric parent caregiving.  I blog about my own piece of the parenting pie, trying to take a subject that isolates me from most people and write to others on the same remote island.  I hope to connect with someone, educate someone, make them laugh, cry, nod and smile.  Really it's for me.  I try not to complain - only to very close friends, and very recently, support group (hallelujah!).  I strive to put a positive spin on matters - even on downward spirals.  You'll hear about the funny things G says and does, not the tantrums, screeching, in-fighting within our home, wishing for someone to take over because I/we need a breather.  Instead I'll talk about a proud moment for my kids, compliment someone, ask them about themselves.  I try to pull one good thing out of each day to focus on.  Sometimes it's a dogged struggle to find one shred of hope or joy, other times I laugh all day.  This blog gives me a record of progress, of hope.  It's my testament to the strength of ASD warriors, to the wonders of our children. 

Next the other groups of folks asked me how I do it, how I manage to take care of 2 other kids while G demands so much.  My answer: humor, taking a positive approach, and teamwork.  I'm not a person who can ask for help - just never have been.  But I do ask for help in our little family, and I'm blessed with kids who do.  My kids are older than G, therefore we had years to establish a great respect and love for each other, a solid foundation.  If G were the oldest, or the only one, I wouldn't have the balance that I'm lucky to have with neurotypical children: their dynamic, their life experiences.  Oddly the 2 women who shocked me by recently marvelling at "how I do it all" have enormous obstacles!  Granted they have only one child, but their boys are more challenged than G.  One gal is in the process of a divorce and living at her mom's with a totally nonverbal, highly sensory-sensitive but luckily happy boy.  How does SHE do it?  The other friend lost her mother a month ago, her son has very little speech and misses his grandmother.  How does SHE not cry all day?  They are the inspiration for me.

It's all about perspective.  The grass always looks greener, or more yellow.  Do you ever notice that we never comment on other's lives and say, "Gee, they're exactly like us, I'd do it precisely that way."   Noting differences is what feeds our sense of self, of our place in the grand scheme.  How are we doing?  Is she doing it better?  How can I do better?

My strategy is simple: don't sweat the small stuff.  As far as the day-to-day aspect, multi-tasking. I can oversee a craft with G, while quizzing my daughter from her study guide for a test.  I can blog or Facebook while I sit with my middle-schooler while he does his homework.  I'm there for questions, opinions, moral support.  G likes too cook; long ago I learned that this can be our bonding time, our time to work on his speech, build confidence, skills.  I use car-time to talk to the kids and find out what they're thinking.  Since I have a captive audience, I get their attention, and they get mine.  They get the ease of talking to the back of my head, which also opens them up a bit more and I don't have to hide my expressions!  Nurture a strong family. I ask for help from within your home.  It takes the pressure off me, makes the kids feel good for helping, makes me less resentful or stressed - win/win.  The kids have a few simple chores, and we have rules on picking up after ourselves.  But - when things spin out of control with G, our schedule, or life - that slides.  My husband works long hours, but when he gets home he's ready to jump in and supervise showers, bedtime stories and finish any math homework (not my strong subject, but luckily his).  He also handles mornings, a very good thing since I'm a night owl. 

I try to keep my priorities straight.  Flex.  If my child''s had a bad day, I'll change up the plan if possible to make some fun or chill-out time.  If someone calls to have fun and I'm doing laundry, guess what wins?  If an unnecessary task, worry or research is making me crabby, I'll look for help or put it off for another time.  I'm not afraid to ask for a hug, a laugh, a smile, a compliment.  Simple stuff, all done with keeping momma sane as top priority, love for my family and meeting their needs as top goal.

I also control my communication.  I rarely make phone calls because I can't predict G's behavior while I'm on the phone or when I'll have to fly because G is running out the door.  He's a needy kid and wants my undivided attention like a 2 year old, maybe always will, hopefully not.  He doesn't listen when I'm connected to him, he surely won't listen when I'm connected to you.  I choose accessible, personal communication through Facebook or my blog.  I can comment on someones photo or status, share a laugh or fun.  I can do this on G time, when he's involved in something momentarily.  I can pause, take breaks, sort of like watching a DVD as opposed to going to a theater.  I'm not in the moment with my friends, because I HAVE TO to be in the moment, CHOOSE to be with G.  Behind my electronic wall, I don't have to delve into subjects which are difficult for me to hear or express.  I don't have to let you know if I'm bawling my eyes out as I escape to Fb for a moment to pull it together.  I don't have to hear you gasp at the screeching in the background at my end of the line while I keep talking on, trying to ignore it. 

My mantra:
When you find yourself stressed, ask yourself one question:
Will this matter in 5 years from now?
If yes, then do something about the situation.
If no, then let it go.
~Catherine Pulsifer

I change this mantra to suit the situation: 5 months, 5 days, 5 hours.  I'll admit that quite often, I say 5 minutes.  

To the friend who tells you to "wait until....whatever", or makes light of your troubles: try to be happy for them.  Wish for their sake that they never have it so bad that they struggle to think about 5 minutes from now just to get through the moment.  They don't have the strength you do.

Friendly Perspective: You have amazing tenacity. Somehow it all works.